With the praise that accompanies being a two-time league MVP and NBA champion comes ample criticism, a fact Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo fully understands.

When the Bucks dropped a 113-104 decision to the shorthanded Miami Heat on Wednesday, there was no passing the buck. The responsibility found Antetokounmpo first, especially following his pedestrian 15-point, six-rebound performance that included Antetokounmpo missing 9 of 13 shots while committing three fouls and three turnovers in 33 minutes.

The Bucks, who will face the host Houston Rockets Friday, had won nine consecutive games with Antetokounmpo in the lineup to climb up to third place in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo averaged 29.1 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists during that productive stretch, numbers so dazzling that they make his off nights that much more glaring.

“He’s got to trust the pass, trust his teammates,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve got to play well around him and I think he can probably make a few more plays on things here and there. It wasn’t a great night for him.”

The challenges Antetokounmpo faces against defenses designed to slow his rampaging are wholly familiar. But on occasion, he does fall into the trap of deciphering when to pick his spots and when to defer to his capable teammates. When things aren’t ideal, the results can be unfavorable.

“When you see a lot of bodies in front of you you’ve got to move the ball, you’ve got to pass it,” Antetokounmpo said. “The only thing (I could have improved upon was) get downhill a little bit more, be more aggressive.

“I think sometimes when you try to play the right way, you pass it too much. Instead, you become a little bit passive, and you’re not as aggressive as you want, so probably just be more aggressive.”

Passivity hasn’t been an issue for the red-hot Rockets, who extended their winning streak to seven consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NBA, with a 114-104 home win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday. The Nets had won six consecutive road games yet proved no match for Houston, which shot 49.4 percent from the floor and drilled 14 3-pointers in the victory.

The Rockets are shooting 48.8 percent during their streak, fourth-best in the NBA during that span, and are converting 39.9 percent of their 42.3 3-point tries per game. The Rockets’ 67.2 assists percentage is third in the league over the last seven games.

“Our shooting is definitely becoming a strength of our group,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Our spacing as a result of our shooting has become a strength of our group and we need to continue to lean into that. We’re certainly not afraid to shoot and we’re certainly not afraid of the moment at this point.

“Our shooting is really a big part of why we’re having success because it’s leading to rolls and finishes and crashes on the offensive glass but also makes. We’re scoring so much more.”

The egalitarian approach to offense isn’t lost on the Rockets, who have come to rely on a different contributor helping share the load offensively on a nightly basis.

“We’re top in the league over this stretch in assists and I think that’s a huge key to why we’re winning,” Rockets forward Garrison Mathews said. “The team ball is where it’s at for us, and that’s really been key.”

–Field Level Media